St. Paul. Band and Choir Concerts. For 26 years, Mary Mackbee, principal of St. Paul's Central High has done it all.
But come June, it will all change. She is retiring.
“I will be 75 at the end of June when I retire. I started here in 1993,” she said.
If her office walls could talk they might share the secret to longevity.
Instead, they hold signs of success. Among the awards and accolades, a countdown to retirement clock.
“There are 44 days left, 12 hours, 34 minutes and 33 seconds,” she said. “I am a little sad because this has been my life for 50 years. Now, I have to wake up every morning and decide what am I going to do.”
The school’s auditorium bears her name. She calls it an honor while sitting on the stage of the auditorium.
“They say it is because I spent half my life here,” she said, adding with a smile. Adding she wishes the school board would've named a concession stand after her for the hot dogs she sold during football games. Then, she lets us know she is just kidding.
Mackbee, 74, has been part of the St. Paul School District for 50 years and is the longest serving principal at Central.
Mackbee said she had to jump many hurdles to get to where she is now. Growing up in the south, Mackbee said she attended a segregated school. She attended the first and only black catholic HBCU in the nation, The Xavier University of Louisiana. Her brother, who was in the military, helped pay for her tuition.
“A measure of a person's success is not what they achieve in life but what obstacles they overcome,” she said."
During her tenure, she has had some good days. Her best day came after working four years at Central.
“In 1997. First graduation class with the students here for the full four years. They gave me a high school diploma,” she said with a smile.
She's had some bad days, too. She remembers two specifically.
“One when we had a staff person attacked in the cafeteria who had to go out on disability,” she said. “A young student who attempted suicide in the building. Those were my two worst days. There have been many more good times than bad but the bad were really bad.”
Cora Rose Michel said hates to see the principal she calls “grandma of the school” leave.
“It will be really tough seeing her go. the new principal has big shoes to fill. That is for sure,” she said. “She makes me smile every time I talk about her. She is the hardest working woman I know.”
As she preps to close the yearbook of life as a principal, Mackbee is left with memories showcasing she will be missed beyond measure.
One teacher wrote the following message in a yearbook.
Mary, thank you for building a space that nobody ever wants to leave,” one teacher wrote.
Another said, “To my other mother. You will be missed. A million thanks for taking a chance on all of us. Much love.
She said she wants her successor to choose his or her own path. That person has not been named.